A Wonderful Trainer is a Treasure Indeed
Choosing Your Best Resource: A Trainer
Perhaps you've already gone through incredible amounts of research to select a dog or puppy, you may have even commenced some aspects of training and socialization and have just started considering looking for a trainer because you've come up against an obstacle that stumps you and isn't covered in any of the books you have. Perhaps, you've not even gotten a dog yet, but something tells you that seeking a trainer that you can develop a good relationship with would be helpful in finding that perfect dog. While the latter statement might seem foreign and it's certainly not the way most people approach adding a dog to their home, it definitely has merit.
So many articles covering aspects of choosing a dog emphasize size, coat and exercise requirements. While these things influence aspects of compatibility, general attitude and personality are far more critical and are not easily assessed in a dog you've just met anymore than in a person you've just met. The help of an experienced person can be invaluable! So whether it is a professional trainer or a very experienced friend, do not hesitate in seeking their help while seeking your new family member.
On the chance that you've already met a muscle-bound fluffcovered pot of love that you couldn't live without, seeking a trainer that you are comfortable with prior to having issues arise will save everyone alot of anxiety and sleepless nights. So pay attention, as your impressions will be the tools you use in assessing the suitability of a trainer for your goals.
If you are seeking a trainer for very high level and exacting performance, such as Search and Rescue, K9 or Schutzhund work, you will clearly seek someone with a great deal of success and experience in those endeavors. The choice gets a bit muddier for those seeking to help their beloved pup become a happy member of the community.
First, certifications and titles can be impressive but don't tell the entire story. Ask anyone you know (especially if they have a well behaved dog) who they worked with. Utilize these references to contact and schedule visits, probably without your dog. Good, knowledgable trainers will have classes that you can come and observe, so you will likely end up watching a number of obedience classes in a variety of locations.
When you go, look over the facilities. While this would not be a deal breaker, it would be highly preferable that the place is well lit (if indoors), clean and without hazard. Granted, being new and fancy isn't important but being safe is. What would happen if your untrained dog got loose during class? How hectic is the place? Training with alot of distraction isn't easy on you or your dog. Does the trainer seem to be able to gain the attention of everyone there? Do they have alot of interuptions to deal with an occasional issue? If so, you might be best off at least starting with private lessons even if it means you take fewer classes for the same or more money over a longer term.
Now consider the trainer's experience. Is their career focused on competition obedience or some other endeavor? While this is ideal if you are interested in that particular dog sport, it can mean that their goals will be visited upon you even if you are simply interested in a well mannered pet. For example, competition obedience demands a level of precision that isn't required or practical for most pet owners. Finding a trainer that is comfortable teaching obedience, agility, flyball and field or basically some assortment of skills will usually mean that they are able to recognize individual goals of dogs and their people.
In watching them work with their students, focus on the students. What kind of body language do the students, human and canine have? Are they relaxed and happy, focused? Do they tend toward sullen or tense or anxious? While some people will certainly come to classes with their own issues and agenda, a trainer that can successful help the majority of their students relax and enjoy themselves is insuring a much higher level of success (and continuation of learning) than one that would leave them feeling otherwise.
What about the trainer's techniques? The options for training vary widely and many approaches work even when it seems impossible that they would. Ultimately consistency seems to result in a "trained" dog, even when it is consistent mistreatment. Corrections or consequences for undesirable responses are not inherently wrong but then, the opinion on that would vary from one trainer to another. As you assess whether you would want to be in this trainer's class, consider the techniques you see used with the students (both to the human and canine). In beginner classes, severe corrections are rarely (if ever) appropriate since the dog isn't choosing to disobey but simply doesn't know what is being asked. Ask yourself how you feel about how you saw the dogs and people treated? Was the trainer supportive or harsh to the people? Were the techniques helpful to the dogs or harsh? If you have doubts or questions, ask the trainer. A trainer that would get defensive over a simple question regarding a technique used is an insecure trainer who is probably unable to give a good reason, and ideally should be avoided at all cost!
Finally, check out the finished product, meet the dogs this trainer has worked with. Some trainers do seek dogs that need help and work with them, as such, that doesn't mean they will be model children. On the other hand, when the trainer or owner tells you of the dog's history, you should be able to see the strides the dog has made from that point. Of course, you'd also like to see some of the dogs that have graduated from the classes. How have they done? Are they all of a similar type? A trainer that has worked extensively with Labradors and Golden Retrievers and Border Collies, may or may not be well equipped to help you with your Airedale, for example. Different motivations and focus can call for different approaches and techniques.
If you are getting a purebred dog from a breeder, they and the trainer will prove to be the most valuable resources you can ever hope for in developing an ideal, healthy pet. Should you choose a dog from another source, whether a rescue, shelter or otherwise, your trainer will serve as a valuable guide and mentor. Selecting someone based on their local reputation, awards, etc. can be a serious disservice if it means you must worship at the alter of their training method. A trainer that has taboo subjects (like why you do a certain correction) is not one that you can be secure around as you will always need to be aware of questions you aren't allowed to ask. Never, ever compromise on the handling your dog receives. Never hesitate to walk away if you feel the techniques include anything you consider harsh, cruel, unfair. Look for a trainer you feel you could be friends with (if you weren't in quite so much awe). You need someone worthy of your trust and reliance, and your dog deserves it.
For more information on trainers, check out the Association of Pet Dog Trainers , in addition to a list of recognized trainers (under Trainer Search) they also offer a good article on How to Choose a Dog Trainer. If DigitalDog can help with any additional information, you can reach us at DigitalDog@DigitalDog.com .